Foodie highlights of Oxford
Emerging from lockdown this July, Oxford seemed about as exotic a place to visit as I was going to get, so I resolved to take a foodie tour of Oxfordshire and had a wonderful time. Lots of places were still closed so I have separated this list into places I was able to visit and places I would love to have visited in case you are travelling there in happier times. Hopefully I’ll be able to add to this post as time goes on and I get to revisit Oxford.
Places I visited
Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
If you can afford dinner or lunch here, I’m sure it would be wonderful, but as a young startup entrepreneur it was a bit out of my budget. When I’ve made my millions, I’ll come back and enjoy the food! I did, however, find a way of experiencing it that even I could afford. Every day they run a garden tour for £30 which includes tea and biscuits. This provides a fascinating insight into the connection between food and farming and as well as some great tips for growing your own. The team at Le Manoir are clearly extremely dedicated, taste testing multiple varieties for each variety they plant. For the full review of my experience click here.
The Kingham Plough
This is a wonderful and blissfully peaceful gastropub in the Cotswolds. With its classic Cotswold stone and picnic tables beneath the branches of an apple orchard, this is a perfect stopover for lunch. My friend said she had the best fish and chips she’d ever had here, while I enjoyed some fabulous, melt-in-the-mouth charcuterie from Salt Pig. Despite sitting what seemed like miles away from the kitchen the waiters and waitresses were very attentive and made us feel very welcome.
Finding anywhere open to eat in Oxford on a Monday night immediately post lockdown was a challenge, but The Red Lion rose to the challenge. It was an excellent choice. Right in the centre of Oxford in a characterful round building of many years with an outdoor courtyard that was soaking up the last rays of the summer sun, The Red Lion may sound like your bog-standard pub, but the menu offers much more than your standard fare. We enjoyed some Devonshire crab and prawn fishcakes with pea and truffle oil puree washed down with a watermelon and orange gintonica and for my teetotal companion they specially made a pineapple and ginger beer mocktail, which she said was quite a revelation. The staff were very friendly and we got chatting with the Sous Chef Calum, who was enjoying serving front-of-house as well as working in the kitchen. His favourite menu item is apparently the linguine.
Run by a very friendly Italian chef called Carlo, Bannister’s Café is cosy little place right next to the Magdalen Arms on one of the main roads leading to the centre of Oxford. Blink and you’d miss it, but boy would you be missing out. Their shakshuka was absolutely spectacular – much better than the ones I’ve eaten in Israel. Somehow Carlo had managed to make the dish incredibly light so the full range of flavours from the spices really came out. I also liked the simple, rustic yet clean look of the place and my neurologist friend was very excited to find it was named after the eminent neurologist Roger Bannister, better known in Oxford for running the first sub-4 minute mile in 1954 on a nearby track.
The Rusty Bicycle
If you’re looking for a comfortable meal in a relaxed and friendly environment, you can’t go wrong with The Rusty Bicycle. Part of The Dodo Pub Group, which rescues dilapidated pubs and restores them as homes away from home for the local communities, this characterful pub serves excellent pizzas and it’s fun to see the locals getting together. Manager, Dominic, spoke to us about how good pubs can breathe life back into the communities they serve in our recent interview.
I loved the cheekiness of this place. The monkey in its logo is stealing a tiffin box and the seats of some of the tables are rope swings! It really tries to recreate the sense of fun and spontaneity of street food markets. The food was excellent too. I would recommend the house lamb and the chaat yoghurt bombs.
While Paddy and Steph Bourns at Crackleberry Farm aren’t normally open for visitors, their eggs are a local legend among top-class chefs for their rich yolks with deep orange colouring. You simply have to try some while you’re here. Even just the box they’re packed in is beautiful enough to warrant purchasing. The best place to buy them would be Fillet and Bone in Chipping Camden, or if you’d like to get a chef to prepare them for you, both Wild Thyme and The Kingham Plough serve them on their menu as well as The Tea Set in Chipping Norton. If you’re interested in how the eggs come to be so delicious, you can read my interview with Paddy and Steph Bourns here.
Places I would have liked to have visited
The Wild Rabbit
This is a great place to go with the family as they are well stocked up with board games. If it’s looking a little gloomy outside The Wild Rabbit is sure to have a roaring fire and a hearty menu of locally sourced, seasonal dishes. Many of their ingredients come from their own garden at the nearby Daylesford organic farm.
This is one to watch as the chef, Nick, is preparing to launch a new concept once social distancing measures become less restrictive. Knowing what his restaurant was like before lockdown and how dedicated he is to local and seasonal sourcing, this is sure to be a good evening out. In the meantime, if you can’t wait to try out some of his tantalising menus and freshly baked bread, Nick is offering a “Take Me Home” menu every Friday. You can follow him on Instagram @nickwtrestaurant for the latest menus.
Fillet and Bone
From the look of it, I should have started my trip here, but I only discovered it after the trip was over. The Chipping Camden shop is located in a centuries’ old butchers shop, but is now packed full of an extensive range of wonderful artisan treats from the local area. I could have learnt so much about the various local producers and built my trip around what I found.
This is (re)opening in September, they had only just opened for the first time before lockdown. While I haven’t been able to visit this one in Oxford, I have enjoyed a fabulous meal at the Lussmanns in St. Albans and I know how seriously they take their sustainability. All the fish is MSC accredited and the meat is free range and mostly organic. You can see what else they do for the planet and the community here.
A mother and son team, L’altrevi bring small-scale Catalan wines to the UK. All their wines are organic as a minimum, but some are biodynamic and “natural”. The term “natural” refers to wine that is fermented with the native yeasts in the grapes rather than with the standard commercial yeasts that are often introduced. They used to do tastings in their shop, but now the best place to find them is at markets in and around Oxford.